Elfyn Evans isn’t one for the soapbox. It’s not his style. But every now and then, things have to be said. This is one of those moments.
The calendar for next year’s World Rally Championship is being talked through at the highest level right now. It’s a big moment for the series and for the sport. It represents the next step in finding a balance between action, heritage, entertainment and commerce.
It’s increasingly widely accepted next month will be Spain’s last stand in the world championship – certainly for next season.
It would be hard to describe Catalunya as a consistent classic in terms of nail-biting drama, but it’s always been a hugely popular round of the championship. And that cuts to the heart of Evans’ concerns.
“There’s been a fair amount of chopping and changing with the calendar in the last few years,” said Evans.
“Obviously, we understand the restrictions COVID brought through 2020 and 2021 and the promoter and FIA did a good job in keeping the thing running through that, but I think we do need to be careful with some of the classic rallies. Some of them ended up being off the calendar in favour of some different events.
“For me, it feels right to go where the appeal is. For example, Ypres is perhaps not somewhere where we’d all shout that it’s got the best stages or that kind of thing, but the sport is very definitely wanted there. We can’t ignore that.
“At the same time, I fully understand the commercial side and we need to bring in new, well-funded events, but I guess what I’m saying is, let’s not forget the classics. Places where the sport is wanted, places like Argentina should be in the championship.”
Evans recently castigated the governing body of British motorsport for not doing enough to fight for a UK-based round of the series and Rally GB is another example of an absent classic.
“I don’t want to sound like I’m only going on about Britain,” said Evans, “but you know what I mean. So many people, so many French colleagues or people from elsewhere around the world have said to me that it still feels right to start the year in Monte Carlo, but not finishing it in Wales feels all wrong. I can completely see that point.
“The flip side of that is the final round we have this year in Japan. Honestly, I couldn’t be more excited about going to Japan. We’ve come close for a few years, but this year it’s going to happen and it will be fantastic. The enthusiasm for the sport out there, the fans and everything, it’ll be amazing.
“It’s a difficult job, but we need to find a balance.”
The Toyota driver couldn’t be more right on both counts. It is a difficult job and we do need to find a balance. One of the things Jean Todt said when his presidential cavalcade very occasionally rolled into the WRC service park was that he intended to put the ‘world’ back into the World Rally Championship.
That has to mean a return of the Americas (México and Chile or Argentina with the United States getting closer and closer) and the Middle East (Saudi Arabia). Those are necessities for next season, they have to be.
But there are only going to be 14 seats when the music stops next week.
One answer is to ramp the calendar back up to 16 rounds. We’d all love that. Let’s face it, a weekend without the WRC is a wasted weekend. But we have to be very honest with where we are right now, the global economy is verging on meltdown and manufacturers are counting the pennies like never before. Sixteen rallies would only work if the budget shortfall was bridged by those incoming events themselves.
There’s nothing new in that. And there’s nothing new in the unflinching financial shoulder the WRC Promoter continues to put to the wheel. The promoter helps fund the manufacturers and P2 crews in its plight to take this great story of ours to planet earth’s further-flung corners.
The classics have earned their place and they bring context to the very fabric of the WRC. But equally, we have to open our eyes and be ready to welcome new investment and a whole heap of new fans.
Elfyn’s absolutely right: we need the Monte, but we need to share the love a little bit.